At the height of the Occupy protests last fall, young people held signs announcing how much they owed in student loans. While the pundits were asking each other what, exactly, the protesters wanted, a big part of the answer was on those signs: Students are leaving colleges and universities with a staggering financial burden and bleak job prospects.
“When you get out of college at 21 with a 30-year loan, it’s soul crushing,” says Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a progressive organization that is launching an advocacy campaign on the issue. Ross is on leave to serve as communications director for gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Falk.
The student loan landscape has shifted dramatically since the parents of current students and recent graduates left college. In 2006, the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics reported that most borrowers who finished college in the early 1990s were able to manage their student loan burden. Most paid the loans back in 10 years. Today, many students face 20 to 25 years of making payments. In the early ’90s, about half of students borrowed; in 2006, two-thirds had to borrow. And their loans are much bigger.